Weird science

Viral Internet 'Frankenstein' rabbit is a modern-day jackalope 

July 12, 2013 at 6:26 PM ET

This June 26, 2013 photo provided by Gunnar Boettcher shows a rabbit that Boettcher dubbed "Frankenstein" with what looks like a series of horns growi...
Gunnar Boettcher / AP
This June 26, 2013 photo by Gunnar Boettcher shows a rabbit that Boettcher dubbed "Frankenstein." Spotted outside Boettcher's home in Mankato, Minn., the bunny has what looks like a series of horns growing out of its head.

You could be forgiven for mistaking the newly YouTube-famous horned "Frankenstein" rabbit for the legendary jackalope of the Wild West.

20-year-old Gunnar Boettcher first spotted the odd rabbit in his backyard in Mankato, Minn., on June 26, around midday. "At first we had no idea what it was and why it had horns and spikes out of its head," Boettcher told NBC News. "We were pretty blown away on how it looked."

Boettcher was able to get a few photos of the rabbit — "He sat perfectly still like he wanted to be photographed or something" — which he posted to Facebook. Those landed on Reddit in the "WTF" subreddit 15 days ago, and began causing a stir. So far, the post has collected 2,567 upvotes, and almost 2,000 comments.

It's just a cotton-tail with a bad case of papilloma virus, Ken Varland, regional wildlife manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources told NBC News. But years ago, a bunny with a condition like the "Frankenstein" rabbit could have been a source of the jackalope legends that circulated when early settlers encountered sick animals in the wild.

The jackalope is, of course, a jackrabbit with the horns of an antelope. In some states like Wyoming, it's taken serious root: The state recently adopted the jackalope as the official mythical creature of the state. Also in Wyoming, the sale of stuffed jackrabbit heads with antelope horns sewn on have been supplementing the taxidermy business of one pair of brothers for years.

In this photo taken on May 6, 2009, a mythical jackalope is seen on display at Wall Drug, in Wall, S.D. (AP Photo/Carson Walker)
Carson Walker / AP
In this photo taken on May 6, 2009, a mythical jackalope is seen on display at Wall Drug, in Wall, S.D.

After the surge of Reddit interest, Boettcher, who'll be a junior at Gustavus Adolphus College this fall, posted a YouTube video of what he calls a "majestic and magical creature" that "feeds off of the dying souls of other rabbits."

In the video, which has been seen 321,600 times and counting, he tails the rabbit with running commentary in an Australian accent. (Boettcher used to watch the late wildlife explorer Steve Irwin as a kid, he explained.) The 462 comments on the video touch on the bizarreness of the bunny as well as the oddness of the host's accent.

As far as Boettcher can tell, the bunny's leading a normal life. "Frankenstein does not appear to be suffering at all internally," he said. "He's hopping around really fast, he hasn't slowed down one bit. He looks completely healthy to me."

And that's the Varland's take as well. In fact, he gets calls about horned rabbits once or twice a summer, he said. Some citizens send in letters and photographs. DNR officials don't go after the other bunnies, and he won't go looking for this one, Varland said. Even if he did, the condition can't be treated.

The virus is contagious and in rabbits "appears to be aided by mosquitoes or ticks." The condition is harmless, but could turn cancerous in an estimated 20 percent of cases. The growths can occur anywhere on the rabbit's body, and this bunny, he said, is a "fairly typical" case. Your pet rabbit can get it, he said.

Varland believes the growths wouldn't interfere with the rabbits social interactions with other rabbits, or turn off coyotes or foxes or owls that would otherwise eat it for dinner.

And dinner is where Varland is betting this bunny will end up. "The chances of its dying of cancer are less than the chances of it being taken by a predator," he said. "This is just reality."

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and technology. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.


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